Ciudad de Mexico, DF, Mexico

cathedral
[This one is the longest yet. I don’t apologize. Nor would I care if you didn’t feel like reading it. But it is likely my last…]

Today, January 13, 2011 marks the end of a very exciting chapter in my life. It may come as a surprise to many, and an unwelcome one for some, but today I shipped my bike back to the US, and boarded a bus to leave Mexico City. Luckily, the end of one chapter means the beginning of the next, since this autobiography-in-the-making is far from over. While my trusty two-wheeled steed that carried me 6,930 miles over the course of 243 days heads north, I am heading south, equipped with nothing but what I was able to stuff in my daypack, the same one I brought to school every day since the eighth grade. I, like most Mexicans, see no reason to fix something that isn’t broken, nor replace something that can be fixed. But enough about my third-world tendencies. Let’s talk about the past, present, and future.

Two weeks ago, a time which now seems more like two months ago, I wrote from Guanajuato on New Year’s day. Oddly, when I think about the day I entered Mexico two months ago, it seems more like two weeks ago. New Year’s day was low-key, as it should be. The only particularly interesting thing was a stop in a cafe down the street from our hostel, and my first experience with what a new drink. It was liquid and chocolate based, though I don’t know what to call it. This stuff was to hot chocolate what proper espresso is to drip coffee. It was hot, dark, thick, and began caressing my olfactory senses with the semi-sweet goodness of dark-as-night chocolate as soon as it was placed in front of me. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to order some sort of cookie to dip in it. I had some flaky pastry with me left over from the morning, so I tried the dip, with excellent results. Then I drank the rest in a series of slow, savory sips. I don’t mean to wax poetic about an ounce of hot chocolate, but it was probably the most incredible sensory experience I’ve had in two weeks or more.

On the morning of January 2nd, Jules, Megs, Russ, Lorely, Pedro, and myself all began pedaling in the direction on San Miguel de Allende. We knew nothing about the town except that it was a relatively short distance away, was supposed to be charming, and had a huge gringo population. The latter fact was interesting considering its location far inland. I was used to seeing many Americans and Canadians escaping the northern winters alng the coast, and those who used to escape the winters seasonally and now call a house near the water a permanent home. Heading inland had meant far fewer tourists and far more fun. Not that I’ve got anything against you, my fellow whities, just preachin’ the truth. San Miguel was in fact very charming, with a most beautiful church next to a bustling town square, as is the norm in every town I’ve been in since leaving the coast. There were in fact many gringos, but I came to find out that rather than visit and never leave, many of them were born here, the baby-boomer children of a large population of Americans who moved here during World War II for various reasons. Unfortunately, the usual socioeconomic division between people of different skin tones was only more obvious here. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Mexicans are of mixed indigenous and European heritage, those with lighter skin are generally better off socially and financially than their dark-skinned compatriots. There are exceptions, of course, but nearly every old man or woman I’ve seen begging in the streets every day (and that’s quite a few) has been darker than me. In San Miguel, there were a number of fancy cafes and art galleries, populated entirely by people with European facial structure and skin-tones. The offspring of aforementioned Americans. While it didn’t necessarily detract from the attraction of the town itself, it did make us all feel like we were in a very different place from the towns we’ve been in, and didn’t have any desire to linger for more than a day.

When we got on the road again, we pointed our forks to Queretaro. None of us had any expectations of the place, except that there was supposed to be cheap lodging, and it was between where we were and where we were going. Once we got within city limits, however, things got very fun. It is commonplace in Mexico for us bike tourers to get encouragement from drivers and people we pass by. I can’t honestly think of a single time when a car honked its horn in any manner other than a friendly one. It’s a pleasant change from the US where we’re seen as little more than a nuisance on the road. In Queretaro, however, people were extra friendly. Maybe it was because we were getting closer to Mexico City, and more people spoke and were eager to practice English- a phenomenon that became more apparent as we got closer- but twice we were stopped by friendly motorists. The first time the occupants of the truck got out and gave us each bottles of water, encouraging us forward. The second was an older man who pulled over simply to talk to us and ask where we were coming from and where we were going. We felt like heroes, to be honest, and it was quite nice. In town we did in fact find very cheap lodging, at a YMCA-type place that had dormitories with beds that could be had for about $4. I hadn’t slept well the night before, so opted to take a nap in the early evening while the others explored. Apparently it’s a beautiful city with many fun squares.

The next day took us over some horrible, shoulderless, interstate-like roads for about 35 miles before we decided to call it quits in the town of San Juan del Rio. Because this was the only road into Mexico City from where we were, we opted to get a bus for the remaining sixty miles. There is no fun in, and no point to, riding in fear of your life for hours on end. The six of us squeezed into a small hotel room, making the cost per person about what it was the previous night, and some of us shared some beers. I’m happy to report I’ve found my favorite Mexican beer outside of the microbrew in Baja that I may have failed to mention. It’s called Noche Bueno, and it’s only available around Christmastime. It’s a dark bock, which in the US would be mediocre, but compared to the crappy Mexican beer I’ve been drinking for two months, it’s heavenly! I slept deeply that night, thanks in part to the Noche Bueno (which translates to “good night”), and we rose early to catch our buses into the city. We (sans Pedro, who opted to sleep in) managed to cram our five bikes in the luggage area of the bus, and have an enjoyable, nappable ride into one of the largest cities in the world.

After unloading our bikes and getting our bearings, we headed to the “centro,” or center of town. Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City) has a particularly interesting centro, as its centerpiece is a huge open square, the third largest in the world in fact (after Tieneman Square and Red Square), referred to as the Zocalo. We sent Lorely and Megs on a mission to find us the cheapest lodging around while Russ, Jules, and I lounged near the Zocalo. In the end we stayed at the Hotel Tuxpan, which is quite simply the most horrendous place I’ve ever stayed. Upon opening the door, I was blasted in the face with the chewy-thick scents of cheap cigarette smoke and cheap cologne. The ceiling of the entire room was covered with a giant mirror. The toilet had no seat, and had a stuck float, so was prone to leaking water all over the bathroom. The upside was that there was a TV. Unfortunately, it was stuck on a channel showing only porn, and the picture was screwed up to boot. I’m quite sure I’m the first person to stay in that room in a long time who wasn’t paying by the hour. But considering the MX$110 per night charge (about US$8.50), it was worth it. I stayed there five nights before leaving, although helped the stale smoke situation by purchasing a bunch of violet-scented incense on the street for ten pesos.

For the next few days we explored the wonders of Mexico City, surrounded by the holiday spirit, which officially lasts until Three Kings’ Day on January 6th, but unofficially kept up much longer. We spent our first day looking for a place to buy tickets to the soccer match on Sunday, something we were all looking forward to. Despite the Ticketmaster website being very straightforward about where it had locations in the city and which ones sold tickets for the soccer games, all three of the locations we went to said they couldn’t help us. After running around all day, we gave up and decided to head to the stadium the next day to buy them directly at the box office. So that’s what we did. After securing our tickets, we went to the former home of famed Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, which is now a museum dedicated to them. Following that, we went to a Luche Libre match. For those not in the know, Luche Libre is the Mexican version of American professional wrestling; that is, it’s fake and built around a story, but can be entertaining to watch. To be honest, I disdain American wrestling, but fully enjoyed the Mexican version.

There was much time spent in various museums around town, which were all conveniently located within a fifteen minute walk of our hotel. The government palace was one of the most ornately-decorated buildings I’ve ever set foot in, and it was also adorned with some awesome Diego Rivera murals. The Palacio Bella Artes had more murals and works of art from various Mexican artists. The Museum of National Art had a lot of art, in various styles and from various time periods, fittingly all from Meican artists. The ruins of an Aztec Temple were discovered in the 1970’s, across the street from the giant cathedral which abutts the Zocalo. I checked out that site and the museum as well, which was moderately interesting. The ruins had been dismantled by the Spanish in the 16th century, presumably to build their own buildings, possibly including the cathedral.

The soccer game was quite a bit of fun, even though the Club America Aguilas (eagles) that we were all cheering for lost to the team from Pachuca. I bought a jersey while there as a souvenir, also thinking since it’s synthetic it’ll be good for traveling in. The game took place in Aztec Stadium, which is the largest stadium in Latin America (5th largest, period.) and holds 105,000 fans. The stands were nearly empty, but the raucousness of the fans that were there made up for it completely. Very few people weren’t wearing the Aguilas’ blue-and-yellow, and their energy put even Buffalo Bills fans to shame.

The last thing worth noting was the ruins of Teotehuacan, an ancient city dating from pre-Jesus times. It had two gigantic pyramids, and Jules, Megs, and I were able to climb to the top of the larger one. The site had been disused since the 16th century, but there were still hundreds of building foundations and pyramid foundations around. The museum on site was interesting too, and it was helpful that everything was in both Spanish and English.

The rest of the group was planning on leaving town the day following our visit to Teotehuacan, so we decided we wanted to do something special for dinner. “Something special” to a bunch of penny-pinching bike tourers such as ourselves meant cheap and crappy chinese food, since none of us felt like having cheap and mediocre tacos again. In fact, the night before, I think one of the cheap tacos I ate screwed my system up. My stomach has not agreed with me since Tuesday, so for the last three days now I’ve limited my solid food intake in an effort to keep from running to the men’s room every half hour. What a way to end the trip.

Yeah, you heard right, end my trip. Sort of. The day everyone else left, I went to Mail Boxes Etc and spent a few hours packing my bike appropriately to ship back to the US. I won’t get into the headaches involved in that one, and please don’t ask. Suffice it to say that I checked into a hostel that night and reunited with Pedro and Aaron, and then returned the next morning to MBE to finish the shipping job. I then made my way to the bus station and bought a ticket to Oaxaca, carrying nothing with me that doesn’t fit into the small backpack I’ve been carrying this trip, and have had and used regularly since I was thirteen.

So that brings us to the present. I’m at a hostel in Oaxaca. In the words of the legendary Ron Burgundy, “I’m a glass box of emotion.” Well, okay, that’s not really true, but it’s been stuck in my head all day. To tell the truth, though, I am very torn. For two-and-a-half years now, every decision I’ve made has been with this trip in mind. It was what drove me. Now I’m done, at least with the biking part. I had expected to be gone at least a few months longer. I expected to travel a few thousand miles further. I couldn’t have expected to have as much fun as I did though, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. Those that didn’t fully understand my intentions may see this as falling short of my goals. It’s not, but at this point there’s no use explaining. It’s true, I wish I had gone further and experienced more. There were plenty of things I was looking forward to- sipping coffee in Cartagena, Colombia; eating guinea pigs in Peru; staying a few nights in the Galapagos; seeing the worlds largest salt flat in Bolivia. But the thing is, I’ll be able to do those things later. The South American continent isn’t going anywhere, and I’m by no means done traveling. Just out of money, that’s all. But even if I had the money to continue further, I don’t think I would. There are some family issues that I don’t care to delve into that mean I feel the need to be in Buffalo in about a month’s time. Am I saying this is the reason I’m stopping? No, but it’s a contributing factor. So is money. And as much as I hate to admit it, this “Lauren” girl plays a part, too. It would be nice to see her more than once every couple of months. It’s the confluence of all three things that’s making me want to stop for now. If it were just two, any two, I’d probably continue. But it’s not, so deal.

The good news for those living vicariously through me is that I’m not done. Not quite done with this trip, and far from being done with this adventure. By “this trip” I mean my time south of the border. By “this adventure” I mean life. Because I’ve learned that there’s no reason enjoying life has to be reserved for special occassions when time permits. Life should be enjoyed every day. That means different things to different people, and to be honest I don’t yet know what it means for me. But if there is one thing I’ve become certain of over the last eight months, it’s that I’m going to lead a happy life. Maybe I’ll be an engineer. Maybe I’ll be a bartender (I can hear you cringing, dad!), or maybe I’ll busk on the street with a harmonica. Or maybe I’ll win the lottery. Maybe I’ll write a best-seller. Or be contacted by the Travel Channel to host a new TV show. Who knows. All I know is that I’m looking forward to whatever lies ahead, because I’m going to enjoy it.

I happen to think I know what lies ahead in the immediate future. I’m in Oaxaca now, and I have intentions of continuing my southbound travels for about the next month or so. I’d like to make it down to Costa Rica in that time, but nothing’s certain. Assuming I do get there, I’d like to have some friends come down for a long weekend and celebrate life with me, after which I’ll fly back to my family in Buffalo. I’ll hang out there for a couple weeks, and then the fun will continue for a bit. I’m planning on moving to Fort Collins, Colorado, since I loved it so much while I was there (Seriously, go back and read that one if you haven’t already). But I have belongings scattered about the northeast in Buffalo, Boston, and New York (Kurt, I think the suit I wore to the wedding in August is under your futon). So I’m going to get my car up and running, put my girl in the passenger seat, and we’re going to road-trip from Boston to Fort Collins, retracing some of my path and visiting friends (both new and old) along the way! Then I work on settling into the “real world, ” an adventure whose story will unfold in due time. If you happen to know anybody in the Fort Collins area looking to hire somebody with a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and a hell of a story, please put me in touch!

Whether this will be my last post here is yet to be determined. I don’t see my travels from here on being website worthy, simply because I no longer see myself as doing something particularly unique. We’ll see. I have come to enjoy writing and putting it out there for the public. But maybe the writing I do from here out will be meant for the pages of a book.

So, after eight of the most exciting months anyone has ever had, I can honestly say I took the “Argentina or Bust” to it’s literal conclusion. I didn’t hit Argentina, but I did go bust. I love you all, and I’ll see you down the road!

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14 Comments

  1. Eva
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:17 AM | Permalink

    Jesse I’m glad you’re safe and happy, and I’ve really loved following your travels! I’m sure I’ll see you again someday, and maybe I can meet Lauren someday too!

    Best wishes,
    Eva

  2. Posted January 14, 2011 at 2:58 AM | Permalink

    Congratulations! You should be very proud of everything that you’ve done… and know that this is only the beginning of a much larger adventure.

  3. Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:23 PM | Permalink

    Sad to hear that we won’t be able to read any more of your adventures for the time being, but glad to hear that we’ll see you again soon. I can’t wait to hear about the rest of it when you’re in Boston. We’re waiting for you…

  4. Pat Brown
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:41 PM | Permalink

    Jess,
    It has been an honor and privilege to “live vicariously” through your adventures. I looked forward to your new posts and pictures and seeing what interesting people and places that you have been. You definitely have the makings of a wonderful book, and I will definitely purchase a copy when it is written. I know your father is very proud of you and will be looking forward to your visit back here to Buffalo. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with all of us and best of luck in wherever the world takes you. May God Bless you and carry you safely in all of your life’s journey’s.

  5. Charles
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 9:36 PM | Permalink

    Well done Jesse. Take this from one who has been on the long road. Its never over! If you move to Fort Collins theres a alabaster quarry there, from which i will need. So I may have to visit you there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXVVTIJb6xU&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL
    Ume doing her best.
    Perhaps you would like to walk around shikoku next.
    Keep in touch charles, aki, ume, momoko

  6. Ryana
    Posted January 17, 2011 at 5:02 PM | Permalink

    You’re quite inspiring! Your trip and experiences have made me want to travel and live life up even more than I did before! Thanks for enlightening many people on your way that we can bust out of society’s constraining mold and enjoy every second and every place in this world. Wish you the best of luck!

  7. Andrew Miller
    Posted January 17, 2011 at 5:10 PM | Permalink

    I have greatly enjoyed your retelling of this adventure Jesse. I don’t think anyone else could have done this quite like you did. I look forward to seeing you again in Hamburg. Take care.

  8. Nina
    Posted January 30, 2011 at 9:36 PM | Permalink

    Jesse,
    I must admit I’m going to miss reading your adventures, but your trip seems like it has been unbelievably life changing and there is absolutely no reason that anyone should be anything less than utterly amazed and proud of the journey you’ve taken. Good luck with the rest of your travels and thank you for inspiring me to live my life to the fullest!

  9. Zman
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Permalink

    Wow Jesse, nicely done! Now if you want a REAL adventure, come back and teach at Frontier!

    Have (more) fun,

    Z

  10. Debi Gaudreau
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 11:47 PM | Permalink

    I have really enjoyed reading about your adventures. I look forward to reading your book. Good luck in Colorado and your new adventure. Life is an adventure, keep living out your dreams.

  11. Mark RIT, Class '87
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 12:56 PM | Permalink

    Jesse,
    I have enjoyed reading your “journal” and congratulate you on your adventure. I have forwarded your info to a friend (RIT, Class of ’88, EE) who lives in Ft. Collins, CO and works for a company that hires EE’s. The ball is in his court. Good luck with the rest of your adventure (your life!). Keep a pebble in your shoe and fix your gaze on the horizon.

    -Mark, RIT Class of ’87

  12. Craig Smith
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 10:14 AM | Permalink

    Jesse:

    Wow! You did some SERIOUS bike riding. Nice go’in! Look forward to seeing you in Ro-cha-cha sometime.

    Be well and prosper.

    Craig

  13. Josh Bassarear
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 12:24 AM | Permalink

    Hey Jesse,

    I just decided to check on your page and read your last post. Can’t even imagine. But this is Josh (and Paul) from Fort Collins. The guys that did that Grey Rock hike with you (and our 2 dogs). I see you might be coming back out this way, or at least you hope to. If so, shoot me an email or look me up on facebook or whatever and we should get back together.
    Safe travels man.

    -Josh

  14. Posted January 15, 2013 at 11:30 AM | Permalink

    Is it a big deal when you are ot yet ready to update, lol! Take time with the previous one because many are not yet explored.

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